Colorado v Colorado State

Embattled Embree gets support from prez; program blasted by ex-Buff

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To say that the tenure of Jon Embree at Colorado has gotten off to an underwhelming start would be an understatement of epic proportions.

After winning just three games his first season, Embree’s Buffs started 2012 by losing to in-state rival Colorado State — and things have only gone down hill from there.  CU followed up that loss with a home defeat at the hands of FCS-level Sacramento State, then followed that up with a 55-point drubbing at the hands of Fresno State that saw the Bulldogs drop 55 points and roll-up over 500 yards of offense in the first half alone.

That sad state of affairs has prompted some, a mere 16 games into head-coaching career of the former CU player and assistant, to call for Embree’s head on a platter, silver or otherwise.  At least for now, though, one very prominent CU official is not paying heed to the screams for change.

Reacting to the calls for Embree’s dismissal, CU president Bruce Benson instead called for patience among the fan base and alumni as the football program attempts to rebuild from five straight losing seasons — the first time in the school’s history that had happened — under the previous head coach.

“I think players kind of said it all after the game when they said, ‘This is the best set of coaches we’ve ever had and we’re really behind them and they’re great guys,'” Benson said according to the Denver Post. “Obviously, people are always going to get upset over something. It’s not the first time in my life I’ve seen people upset. All we can say is we have a serious rebuilding. …

There’s no point that I or anybody else is going to step in that I know about. So we’re going to play it out. We’re going to rebuild and be positive and move forward.”

One former player, however, has come out with verbal guns blazing and aimed squarely at the football program.

In an expansive talk with the Daily Camera, Denver radio personality Matt McChesney, who was a player during Embree’s and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy‘s stints as Buffs assistants, blasted the state of CU football, labeling it a “disgrace” and “the worst program in the nation.”

While not calling (yet) for the firing of either Embree or Bieniemy, McChesney said “if I was in charge, Greg Brown would be fired today,” referring to CU’s defensive coordinator.  On that he might have a valid argument.

Last season, Colorado ranked 109th in scoring defense (36.5 points per game) and 102nd (439.3 yards per game) nationally.  This season, the Buffs are 112th (40.3 ppg) and 106th (479.7 ypg) in those categories.

And, even as he has somewhat tepid support for Embree, he’s putting the onus on the state of the football program squarely on his shoulders, and not that of the former head coach who left the program in tatters.

“I’d like to give Embree and E.B., the benefit of the doubt, but it’s really hard for me to do that after 69 points to Fresno and losing to Sac State and losing to CSU, and then having to look at our conference schedule the way we do,” McChesney said. “I mean, I don’t see a team that we can score a touchdown on let alone win. They’re going to all score 60 points on us.

“I’m not going to blame Dan Hawkins. I’ll tell you that. I’m not going to be that guy who just blames the old coach. This is Embree’s watch. It’s his responsibility.”

Unfortunately for Embree’s supporters, and likely to the delight of his detractors, it will get a helluva lot worse before it gets any better.The Buffs this weekend will begin a streak of nine straight Pac-12 games, with five of those coming against conference teams currently ranked inside the Top 25 of the most recent rankings.

Following that daunting gauntlet, we’ll see if the administration, including Benson and athletic director Mike Bohn, remains squarely in Embree’s corner.

San Jose State QB Malik Watson latest to take grad transfer route

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  The San Jose State Spartans marching band plays their fight song against the Fresno State Bulldogs in the second quarter on November 29, 2013 at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, California.  The Spartans won 62-52.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a college football player has decided to ply his final season of college football wares elsewhere.

The latest to take that tack is Malik Watson, who announced via Twitter that he has “decided that I will not be returning to San Jose State for my senior and will be seeking elsewhere to pursue my dream.”  As Watson will graduate from SJSU this May, he will be eligible to play immediately in 2016 if he lands at another FBS school and enrolls in a grad program not offered at his former school.

Watson added that, as he awaits a new destination, he “will continue to train with my private QB coach in this meantime.”

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A California high school product who was born in Hawaii, Watson transferred from the junior college ranks to SJSU in 2014. After redshirting that first year, the 6-3, 208-pound Watson played in two games as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart.

In that time, Watson completed 9-of-15 passes for 59 yards and an interception. Of the 15 attempts, 14 came in the Week 3 loss to Oregon State.

Illini grad transfer T.J. Neal to visit WVU, Auburn

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMPER 27: Linebacker T.J. Neal #52 of the Illinois Fighting Illini arches of running back Ameer Abdullah #8 of the Nebraska Cornhuskersduring their game at Memorial Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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T.J. Neal does not yet know where he will continue his collegiate career, but it appears the linebacker has significantly narrowed the field.

A little less than two weeks ago, Neal, after being told by the coaching staff that they were planning to move him from middle to strongside linebacker, decided to transfer out of the Illinois football program.  As he will be a graduate transfer upon earning his degree in May, Neal will be eligible to play at another FBS program in 2016.

Enter West Virginia and Auburn, two teams which have been in contact with Neal and vice versa.  According to al.com, Neal will visit Morgantown this coming Monday, then head to The Plains a week later.

Upon the announcement of an impending departure, Illini head coach Bill Cubit said the Pennsylvania native “was talking about playing closer to home.”  Even as a move to Auburn would be the exact opposite of that, Neal seems genuinely excited over the prospects.

“Being able to play down there in Alabama, it’s like a dream come true,” Neal told Brandon Marcello of al.com. “From my high school, I never thought I’d play at a big-time school like Auburn. To have a chance now, it’s exciting to play against some of the top players in the country.”

According to blueandgoldsports.com, Penn State and Pittsburgh are/were also in play. It’s unclear if he’s visited or plans to visit those schools in his home state, although it was originally thought that the Nittany Lions could be high on Neal’s to-do list.

Not only is Neal a native of McKeesport, Pa., but Tim Banks, the Illini’s co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach the past four seasons, left in December to become the Nittany Lions’ coordinator.  PSU has also seen a pair of linebackers, Troy Reeder and Gary Wooten Jr., transfer out this month, meaning the opportunity for a starting job would certainly be on the table.

Regardless, Neal expects to make a decision shortly after the Feb. 15 visit to Auburn. He would then enroll in his new school of choice shortly after his graduation from Illinois.

Neal was a two-year starter for the Illini who finished second on the team in tackles (109) this past season.  He was named honorable mention All-Big Ten for his play in 2015.

Hip issue forces Mizzou RB Morgan Steward to retire

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Thomas Tyner isn’t the only Power Five running back forced to step away from the sport because of injury.

Back in November of 2014, Morgan Steward sustained a hip injury during the early portion of Missouri’s summer camp.  Specifically, the running back said at the time, “[m]y hip joint popped out of place, tore things around, pulled off some of the bone.”

Surgery that November sidelined him until camp the following year, but Steward managed to play the first three games of the 2015 season. Unfortunately, the back was shut down in late September for the remainder of the year; five months later, he’s being shut down permanently as Mizzou officials have confirmed that Steward will be forced to retire from the sport and end the playing portion of his football career.

A three-star member of the Tigers’ 2012 recruiting class, Steward ran for 84 yards and a touchdown as a redshirt freshman. Prior to the hip injury the following year, Steward was viewed as a back who could potentially shoulder a significant portion of the running-game load, rushing for 117 yards and three touchdowns in a scrimmage during spring practice in 2014. Post-injury, he ran for 18 yards in the three 2015 games.

The good news for Steward is that he has his degree from Mizzou in business communications.

Ole Miss QB Ryan Buchanan opts to quit football

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - NOVEMBER 22:  Ryan Buchanan #9 of the Ole Miss Rebels throws a pass in the fourth quarter of a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Razorbacks defeated the Rebels 30-0.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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Ole Miss had already lost one quarterback to a transfer the past couple of months.  Now, the Rebels are losing another via different means but essentially for the same reason.

In an interview with Scout.com, Ryan Buchanan confirmed that not only is he leaving the Ole Miss football team, but he’s leaving the sport, period.  Buchanan’s decision to step away from the game is actually the culmination of a process that began midway through a 2015 season that would see the Rebels win 10 games and a Sugar Bowl title.

“I came to the conclusion a few months ago that football would not be my future and it was time to start applying myself 100% to my future,” he said. “It’s time for me to find my passion beyond football.”

Buchanan, who said he briefly flirted with transferring to another school, informed head coach Hugh Freeze and his position coach, Dan Werner, of his decision a couple of weeks ago.

If Buchanan had decided to return to Oxford, he would’ve been no better than third on the depth chart. All-SEC quarterback Chad Kelly is firmly entrenched as the starter, while five-star 2015 signee and future at the position Shea Patterson is poised to be Kelly’s backup for a season before taking over the reins in 2017. There’s also no guarantee that the sophomore could beat out redshirt freshman Jason Pellerin for the No. 3 spot.

A four-star member of the Rebels’ 2013 recruiting class, Buchanan was rated as the No. 19 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 3 player at any position in the state of Mississippi.  After taking a redshirt as a true freshman, Buchanan attempted 22 passes and served as Ole Miss’ holder on kick attempts in 2014.  This past season, he attempted 13 passes, two of which went for touchdowns.

In early December, DeVante Kincade, a three-star recruit in Buchanan’s class, announced his decision to transfer from the Rebels.